The Charles Cryer Theatre is to re-open with new operators after being ‘dark’ for more than two years. But Sutton Council still managed to mess up the announcement, as CARL SHILTON reports
It has taken Sutton Council a little over two years to find a new tenant for the Charles Cryer Theatre in Carlshalton, following the demise of the short-lived Sutton Theatres Trust (which wasn’t actually a trust, but a limited company).
CryerArts Ltd was announced yesterday as the new operators for the Carshalton venue, though not without some of the now expected Sutton Council bungling. Had it not been for some poor council decision-making previously, it probably would never have taken this long to find a taker for the theatre.
When Sutton Theatres Trust went bust in the summer of 2016, its assets were disposed of. Unfortunately, this included the fabric of the Cryer and the Secombe theatres, including staging and lighting, as Sutton Council had misguidedly handed over all the publicly owned equipment to STT.
This meant a rocky road ahead for any potential new lessee, with upfront investment in equipment a potential handicap to any start-up.
It seems that this time round though, the council has learned some lessons in due diligence before handing out a lease. And at last Sutton can throw off the shame of being the only borough in London without an open and operating theatre.
There were three shortlisted bidders: Carshalton Baptist Church, which had limited if any interest in any non-religious theatrical use; a consortium led by the highly regarded local learning disability CIC Nickel Support; and CryerArts Ltd a start-up company with solid industry experience and personal investment from its proposers.
The CryerArts bid won, convincingly according to the report prepared for the council’s Strategy and Resources Committee. CryerArts’ bid centres on a bar and restaurant, with theatre productions, comedy nights and space hire for creative activities. The main shareholder in CryerArts is Rodger Molyneux-Roberts, who runs The Hope, the award-winning community pub in Carshalton.
The news that the Cryer is to re-open as a theatre will be widely welcomed across south London, where a dearth of reasonably priced rehearsal and performance space has been hard-felt by smaller drama companies and amdram groups, especially in Croydon.
Of the two underbidders, Nickel Support was the second preference, with its mix of family-orientated activities and a child-friendly café.
Carshalton Baptist came third, despite achieving the highest community value ratings.
Many locals were fearful that the Cryer Theatre might suffer a similar fate to another valuable and much-valued public asset, The Lodge.
Sutton’s LibDem-run council opted to sell off The Lodge, in Carshalton’s leafy conservation area, to EcoLocal, an environmental (apparently) charity of which LibDem MP Tom Brake is a trustee.
EcoLocal was somehow allowed to buy The Lodge at a price at least £1million below market value.
Residents’ worries over a repeat arose because the Nickel Support bid was underpinned by more than £250,000 in funding from The James Trust.
The James Trust is run from the home of LibDem councillor Marian James, who is a trustee of The James Trust and the chair of Sutton’s People Committee. While it is declared on her register of interests published by the council, the councillor’s close involvement with the Nickel bid was not make clear during the public elements of the bid process for the Cryer Theatre.
Such a basic error in transparency would have raised all kinds of theories had the well-thought-out and family-friendly Nickel Support bid won.
In a final kick in the teeth for the underbidders, Inside Sutton understands that although CryerArts was informed of its success on Thursday, the council failed to let Carshalton Baptists or Nickel Support know that their bids were unsuccessful. They were left to discover their disappointment via social media.
One understandably furious underbidder had to tell their employees and partners the bad news without knowing the reasons they lost. “They were totally unprepared for this crushing news, and had to deal with dashing people’s hopes in a very ad hoc and painful way,” an insider told Inside Sutton.
‘This is shoddy from Sutton Council, and is an insult to the bidders,” said Tim Crowley, the leader of the Sutton Conservative group.
“I attended the presentations that helped to inform the decision, and all three bidders had worked incredibly hard to put together exciting and worthy proposals.
“It’s shameful that they learned their fate from phone calls from friends or from social media. It doesn’t send out a good signal to the charity sector in Sutton when such sensitive communications around a major cultural development are handled so poorly.
“But at least we now have finality, and after a much improved selection process I welcome the new vibrancy and activity that should be a fantastic boost for Carshalton and the whole borough.”
The winning CryerArts bid has to be approved by Sutton Council’s Strategy and Resource Committee – of which Councillor James is a member – meets on October 29. The decision is regarded as a formality.
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